Cafpi French mortgage : Finding a property

For some people this is where they get most fun, while for others frustration sets in. You can take some of the stress out of the process by being well prepared. It’s not necessary to have much French to go house-hunting. It is not usually possible to view French property on Sundays or Bank Holidays.

Estate agents (agents immobiliers) are usually local to an area and therefore will only have properties for sale within that area. The agent earns commission from the sale of the property and will try to obtain the best possible price for the vendor, but will probably have a shrewd idea of the lowest price a vendor will accept. One reason for the higher fees at French estate agents is that all viewings are accompanied, and you will often be taken to the property in the estate agent’s car. They will often sign for you, as a proxy, at the Acte de Vente and arrange the transfer of utilities. Private sellers also exist, but may not set a price at market rates and are unlikely to help you further with the purchase process.

The window price of a property is usually shown as FAI (Frais Agence Inclus). Sometimes agents appear reluctant to phone a client in front of you, because the offer price to the vendor will be exclusive of their fees. Most estate agents are members of FNAIM, the Fédération Nationale des Agents Immobiliers.

Just as at home, it’s worth taking a digital camera, torch, tape measure, and notebook & pencil on a property viewing trip.

It can be helpful to complete a checklist for all the properties which you view, so that you can compare them afterwards. It is not usual for French estate agents to produce particulars. Establish whether the property has electricity connected, gas (bottled or town), phone, Broadband, TV, fosse septique or mains drainage. In France, utilities charge by the metre from their current nearest point to your property to connect their services. Whilst viewing the property, you should note the condition of the walls, windows, roof, chimney and drains. Ask the agent or seller why the property is for sale and how long the property has been on the market. Try to find out what the neighbourhood is like and consider whether you would fit in. If you see a property you like, go back later (different time of day/week), unaccompanied, to check out the district, visit the bar, talk to the locals. In holiday areas, it is important to establish how many businesses close at the end of the season, as this practice is very common in France.

If the property has its own garden or grounds, you should take note of the state of boundary walls, gates, fences, patio, pool area, outdoor structures such as sheds, pool house, lawn, flower beds, irrigation, shrubs, trees, shade and outdoor lighting. These can be difficult or expensive to change. It’s important to establish who is responsible for the boundary fences and whether there are any rights of way. In apartment blocks you should consider the common parts, which can only be updated when the whole co-propriété votes for the work. Other factors in the near vicinity which might affect your enjoyment include: safety (crime rate, roads, lighting), noises (trains, planes, highways, animals, industry), smells (farm animals, industry, septic tank, water treatment works), neighbours (demography, pets, privacy), public transportation (bus, train, metro), shopping facilities and hazards (flooding, avalanche, power lines, phone masts). Once in your chosen part of France, it is usually possible to buy 1:25000 scale IGN Série Bleue maps of the area showing contours, water courses, power lines etc.

However much research you do, and however many checklists and costings you draw up, the most important choice is a property that feels right.

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